The puzzling circumstances surrounding the arrest and subsequent death of Sandra Bland, a woman described by those close to her as an anti-police brutality activist, prompted a comprehensive investigation to be performed by multiple agencies including the Waller County District Attorney’s Office, The Texas Ranger Division of the state’s Department of Safety and the FBI.
Bland was found hanged in a cell at Waller County Jail July 12, where she had been detained for three days for an arrest stemming from a traffic stop. While Bland’s death was originally ruled as a suicide, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said that the inquiry “is being treated like a murder investigation.” Mathis noted, however, that “It is very much too early to make any kind of determination that this was a suicide or a murder because the investigations are not complete.”
The news of Bland’s death in police custody led to several questions, including why Bland was being held in jail as a result of what began as a traffic stop for not using her turn signal while changing lanes. According to a July 16 Texas DPS news release, Bland was arrested on July 10th during the traffic stop because she “became argumentative and uncooperative” toward police. TxDPS went on to report that Bland was arrested because she assaulted a police officer.
Ross Weidner of ABC7 Chicago tweeted a copy of what appeared to be an affidavit from a Texas DPS trooper, identified as Brian Encinia, alleging that Bland swung her elbows at the trooper and kicked his shin.
NBC News reported that the traffic stop appeared to escalate beyond a routine incident when Bland was ordered by an officer to put out her cigarette. Cannon Lambert, a lawyer for Bland’s family, said that he saw the dash cam video and Bland disagreed with the order. “Why do I have to put out a cigarette when I’m in my own car?” Lambert quoted Bland as saying to police. Lambert said that the officer “then looked to force her to get out of the car by way of opening the door and started demanding that she do.” Bland reportedly attempted to take video of the incident with her phone, but exited her vehicle when a Taser was pointed at her.
A July 17 TxDPS release acknowledged that “In the preliminary review of the traffic stop that occurred in Prairie View on July 10, 2015, involving Sandra Bland, we have identified violations of the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy.” The officer involved has been moved to administrative duty.
Police dashboard video of the traffic stop is expected to be released Tuesday according to NBC News, and TxDPS stated that video footage related to Bland’s case will be released to the public following forensic analysis. A YouTube video purported to be witness footage of part of Bland’s traffic stop can be seen below.
Brian Cantrell, the head of the criminal investigation division for Waller County Sheriff’s Office, claimed that Bland’s death was a suicide. “I want to make clear that the death of Ms. Bland was a tragic incident, not one of criminal intent or a criminal act,” Cantrell said. According to Cantrell, Bland strangled herself with a plastic bag.
Cantrell’s claim was quickly disputed by friends and family of Bland, who asserted that Bland was not suicidal. Family members said that Bland had recently started relocating from Illinois to Texas to take a new job at Prairie View A&M University. One family member reported Bland being “in good spirits” while waiting to be released from Waller County Jail.
This story has been updated to include information from the Twitter account of ABC7’s Ross Weidner.